My Department is undertaking a number of ongoing actions to promote co-operation on North South environmental issues. These are outlined below.
There is a high level of North/ South co-ordination in relation to water quality matters, particularly in context of the EU Water Framework Directive. The North/South Working Group on Water Quality was set up by the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) in June 2000 to look at water policy issues. In March 2003 proposals were made for the delineation of International River Basin Districts (IRBDs) under the Water Framework Directive. The proposals were agreed and legislation for transposition of the Directive was enacted in each jurisdiction in December 2003. The NS SHARE (North/South Shared Aquatic Resource), project serves to enhance technical cooperation on implementation of the Directive and reflects the designation of the Island of Ireland as a single eco-region, Ecoregion 17 (Water Framework Directive Annex XI). The project commenced in 2004 and is due for completion in 2008.
At the most recent meeting of the North South Ministerial Council in Environment Sectoral Format, on 26 October 2007, the Council agreed that implementation of the Water Framework Directive for the three IRBDs falling within the scope of the Directive should proceed on the basis of single management plans for each IRBD. The Council requested the North South Water Framework Coordination Group of officials, which takes forward this work, to report on progress at its next meeting.
The NSMC agreed that a co-operative approach should be taken to encourage and support the expansion of waste recycling. The Council agreed that the North/South Market Development Steering Group (NSMDSG) should submit proposals for developing an all-island strategic approach to market development for recyclable material. Since then, both the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and my Department have published documents outlining their approach to Market Development. Both documents provide detailed work programmes for each of the Departments over the coming years and highlight the potential for value to be added by all-island market development initiatives.
At the NSMC Environmental Sector meeting in October 2007 it was decided to establish a newly mandated NSMDSG to drive forward a programme focused on specific deliverables of mutual benefit, exploiting opportunities to benefit from economies of scale. The establishment of the Group is now the subject of ongoing discussions between the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and my Department. Ireland will be represented on the Group by officials from my Department and Enterprise Ireland while Northern Ireland will be represented by DOE and Invest NI. Further work is ongoing in finalising the membership arrangements and the Terms of Reference for the Group.
A new study led by the NSMDSG to determine the feasibility of establishing a paper mill on the island of Ireland was initiated in 2004 and the Phase 1 Study Report was published in August 2006. The feasibility study is the first of two phases and the project was funded jointly by DOE through WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) and my Department. The project was managed by WRAP.
Provisional findings from the first stage of an interim phase — taking soundings from individual businesses in the sector — indicate that the paper manufacturing/converting and waste management sectors show favourable interest in exploring the establishment of a tissue mill on the island. Consequently a more formal sectoral group meeting will be convened to test this level of interest amongst the key industrial players. It is proposed to hold a special stakeholder meeting to discuss the matter in March 2008. A favourable response would lead to a recommendation being made to NSMDSG to progress Phase 2.
The EU Regulation on Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) for domestic fridges and freezers requires the removal of all ODS from waste fridges and freezers on disposal. An all-island contract for an effective system of management, including collection, transportation, storage and treatment in both jurisdictions was agreed and the joint contract was launched by Ministers in April 2004. The scheme proved very successful while in operation and in November 2004 it was declared the winner of the UK National Recycling Awards in the category of "Best Partnership Project for Recycling". Over 175,000 units were collected for processing under the joint scheme. The contract ended in August 2005, as the recovery of fridges and freezers is now handled under the scheme which implements the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.
Officials from my Department and the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland have agreed a Road Map for tackling cross-border movements of waste. The Road Map sets out a mechanism for dealing with waste which has already moved from Ireland to Northern Ireland (‘historic waste') and plans for co-ordinated enforcement activities. The Road Map has been welcomed by the European Commission. It commits both sides to co-operating in dealing with this legacy issue. There is ongoing communication between officials from my Department and from the Department of Environment in Northern Ireland with a view to resolving issues to a mutual satisfaction.
The NSMC commissioned work to set up a joint register of current environmental research projects. In April 2002 the answer (a North/South Website of Environmental Research) website was launched. The website serves as a central information point for all environmental research carried out on the island of Ireland. It includes a shared register of Environmental Data Sources (EDS), to date only populated with information on water data. The website is being maintained on a joint funding basis by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environment and Heritage Service. Currently answer has around 800 members and over 9000 visits to the site were recorded up to March 2007. At the NSMC sectoral meeting in October 2007 it was agreed to undertake a review of answer/ EDS to consider longer term management options and determine a cost-effective way forward.
The NSMC agreed that officials should work together to explore and develop opportunities for information exchange and joint environmental education and awareness in raising areas of common interest. Key developments since have included:
A series of Colloquiums on Recycling for Environment Awareness Officers from Ireland and local authority Recycling Officers from Northern Ireland.
Environment and Heritage Service and Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government co-sponsorship of Eco Unesco Young Environmentalist Awards.
Sharing of environmental education publications between Environment and Heritage Service and ENFO, resulting in significantly extended series of publications being produced by both organisations.
Delivery of a strategic approach to managing invasive alien species of plants and animals that pose a threat to biodiversity. This is being co-ordinated jointly by Environment and Heritage Service (DOE) and National Parks and Wildlife Service (DEHLG).
Joint sponsorship between Environment and Heritage Service and Environmental Protection Agency of the Eco Eye environmental television series (RTE1) in January to March 2007.
Joint sponsorship between Environment and Heritage Service and border councils (Fermanagh, Newry and Mourne, Armagh, Louth, Cavan and Monaghan) of the Hidden Heritage environmental television series (UTV) in January 2007.
The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and my Department commissioned the Queen's University Belfast based consultancy Quercus to prepare a research report on "Invasive Species in Ireland". The Report was prepared in March 2006. The recommendations from this report are being progressed through a jointly funded contract over a three year period ending in 2009. A joint steering group has been established comprising experts in this field, and an all-island stakeholder forum was also held in March 2007.
The production of the joint species action plans is an important element of the work being undertaken to meet the requirements of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives. To date four species action plans have been published covering the Corncrake, the Pollan (an Irish freshwater fish), the Irish Hare and the Irish Lady's Tresses Orchid. Additional plans for the Red Squirrel, the Killarney Fern and nine bat species have recently completed a period of public consultation and will be published shortly.
Both jurisdictions have also established independent biodiversity stakeholder groups, the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group (NIBG) and in Ireland, the Biodiversity Forum. In recognition of the need for collaborative approaches, the Chair of both the Forum and the NIBG are represented on the alternate group along with officials from both Departments. Recently, a sup-group of the Northern Ireland Biodiversity Group and the Biodiversity Forum was established to consider further areas where cooperation would be beneficial. The report of the sub-group will be considered by officials in both Departments in due course.
An all-island biodiversity conference was held on 2 October 2007 in Athlone. The conference focused on the EU target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010 and beyond and drew together stakeholders in the process. Ministers addressed this conference indicating support for the important initiative. A further all-island conference focussing on biodiversity and climate change is planned for later this year.
Further details on work carried out under the NSMC can be found on the Joint Secretariat's website at www.northsouthministerialcouncil.org where all the joint communiqués are available.